skip to Main Content

The Reformer


About Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation

Citizens Union of the City of New York is an independent, non-partisan force dedicated to promoting good government and political reform in the city and state of New York. For more than a century, Citizens Union has served as a watchdog for the public interest and an advocate for the common good. We work to ensure fair elections, clean campaigns, and open, effective government that is accountable to the citizens of New York. We do so by informing the policy debate and influencing the policy outcomes that affect the lives of all New Yorkers. Believing that an informed citizenry is the cornerstone of a thriving local democracy, Citizens Union Foundation – the non profit research, education, and advocacy organization affiliated with CU – publishes Gotham Gazette, a front row seat to New York City policies and politics.

Join Citizens Union

Click here to become a member.

from Dick Dadey, Executive Director

With this issue, we share with you our recent activity – believe it or not – from garbage cans to The Garbage Game.

As part of its effort to stop local ele cted officials from shameless self promotion using city funds, Citizens Union has called for the City Council to ban Council members from spending tax payer dollars on advertisements, including placing their names on garbage cans throughout the city. Knowing the importance of how we handle our garbage and its tremendous impact on our environment, Gotham Gazette launched this week its first in a series of policy games funded by John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Since this issue is packed with articles that you should read, I will only share with you news of transitions here at Citizens Union.

Doug Israel, Citizens Union’s Director of Public Policy and Advocacy for the past five and half year’s, left last month to become the Director of Research and Policy for the Center for Arts Education. Doug made a very strong contribution to the revitalization of Citizens Union and thankfully his impact on what CU has recently become will be felt for a long time.

On a more somber note, Ted Lynn, a long time member of the CU and CUF boards, passed away last month.

Ted was a constant presence and force in Citizens Union for decades, first becoming involved in the Local Candidates Committee in the 1970s and serving on the board since at least 1991. His encyclopedic knowledge of the city was matched by his interest in seeing that its government function well and be led by honorable people committed to serving the public interest. We will miss his laser-like, no nonsense questions, and the enlightening discussions he would engage us in. We were fortunate that he joined us for our last board meeting on October 1, and true to form, he was the only board member who participated in our most recent candidate evaluation in the Brooklyn Surrogate race last month. His contribution and legacy will live on in so many ways, not just at Citizens Union, but in the City of New York as well.

Ted had been a partner at Stroock, Stroock, and Lavan since 1991 and prior to that was associated with Webster and Sheffield for twenty-five years. Earlier this year, CU profiled Ted   in The Reformer . Our condolences go out to his wife, Linda, daughter Jessica, son Douglas, his two grandchildren, the rest of his family, countless friends, and many colleagues.


City Updates

City Council Acts on CU Report on City Council Spending on Advertisements

Just weeks after Citizens Union released its report, Tax Dollars At “Work” – City Council Spending on Advertising, a report that analyzed how pubic funds are used by City Council members for advertising, the Council, under the leadership of Speaker Christine Quinn, issued new rules governing the practice. The rules reform the way in which ads can be used and bans those that are strictly self-promotional. This change – and accomplishment of Citizens Union – shows the increased ability not only to inform public discussion, but also to bring about important reform to city government.

Our research showed that the members of the City Council spent close to $1 million in tax dollars over the past five and a half years on advertising in local community newspapers and event journals. $343,000 was spent during the election years of 2003 and 2005 in possible violation of the city charter when almost all were running for re-election or election to another office.

Most of the advertising appears not to provide a public service or impart information about public meetings and hearings, but rather simply extends holiday greetings or salutatory congratulations. The study found that three distinct spending peaks occurred each year in June, September, and December, coinciding with special events, primary elections, and holidays.

While the annual average amount spent on advertising by council members was $3,685, the top ten spenders on the City Council accounted for fifty-five percent, or $405,360, of all advertising dollars spent by the Council during the fiscal years of 2003 to 2006.

The City Charter prohibits elected officials who are candidates for city office from participating in television, radio or printed advertisements paid for with government funds from January 1 of the election year through the date of the last election. However, Citizens Union discovered that spending amounts and patterns were the same for both election and non-election years.

The report made specific recommendations for greater disclosure and transparency, policy changes to limit advertisements to those that provide a clear public benefit, and enforcement of current bans on tax funded advertising during election years – all of which are now part of the Council’s new rules, which can be read  here  and click  here  for CU statement about these rule changes.

Use these links to read the report, for the addendum of sample ads: part one-sample public service ads, part two-sample community event ads, and part three-sample local paper ads,  Speaker Quinn’s statement , and Gotham Gazette’s coverage of this issue.


Citizens Union Calls for Ban on Named Garbage Cans

Following our efforts to ban self-promotional advertising by Council members using tax dollars, Citizens Union issued a statement decrying the practice of placing the names of elected officials on public garbage cans. Click  here  to read CU’s statement and here to read the Daily News editorial on Citizens Union and our position on this topic.



CU Opposes DOJ Proposal for HAVA Implementation

Citizens Union joined New York City Councilmember Simcha Felder at a press conference last week to speak against the recent plan by the Department of Justice to compel New York State to comply with HAVA. Other groups in attendance included: NYPIRG, The League of Women Voters, and the Brennan Center. The DOJ proposal would have federal courts take control of the voting machine selection process from New York State, and implement new voting machines for the 2008 Presidential Election in November.

New York State – currently the last state to comply with HAVA – has one of the strictest set of standards for voting machines in the country, complicating our ability to comply with HAVA. Though CU is not pleased that the use of new voting machines have been delayed, it and many advocates warn that the plan to force New York to purchase new machines — that are “not to up our standards” — undermines the gains voters won with the state’s current voting machines standards, such as requiring vendors to place voting system source code into escrow with the state. The 2002 Help America Vote Act mandated that states modernize their voting machine standards. Many have, but with disastrous results that New York State has learned from and does not want to repeat, when it has adopted higher standards.

There are currently no voting machines that meet New York State’s standards. Click  here  to view the press release.


Changes at the New York City Board of Elections

In October, Executive Director of the New York City Board of Elections, John Ravitz, resigned from his position. Ravitz has moved on to serve as the Executive Director of the American Red Cross in Westchester County. The City’s BOE Commissioners are in the midst of a search to replace Ravtiz. The support of at least six commissioners is required to approve a new executive director.

Citizens Union thanks John Ravitz for his service to the City of New York. While the city and state have lagged in implementing the Help America Vote Act and selecting new voting machines, Ravitz and his senior staff remained focused and dedicated to developing a comprehensive plan for the city and increasing transparency and public involvement. In addition, he has been a strong supporter of Citizens Union Foundation’s poll worker program, particularly our recruitment of interpreters. We hope that his successor will continue to maintain the open relationship Ravitz has built with CU over the years. Citizens Union will continue to work with the BOE and its new Executive Director to improve election administration and the electoral process in New York City.


Poll Worker Updates

2007 Poll Worker Recruitment Program Launches

Citizens Union Foundation launched this month its 2007-2008 Poll Worker Recruitment Program. The program will recruit poll worker applicants from across the city and present their applications to the New York City Board of Elections.

CUF will continue to focus recruitment efforts on language interpreters, as we have in previous years, as well as recruiting 18-24 year olds to get involved in the electoral process. With the February Presidential Primaries fast approaching, our recruits will help New York City mu

ster the 30,000 poll workers needed to run a successful election in the five boroughs. With three elections– the presidential primary, the New York primary and the general election, poll workers can earn up to $660 in 2008.

As a service to busy New Yorkers, CUF offers the only online option for submitting applications to work at the polls. If you are interested in becoming a poll worker or learning more please visit our poll worker website or call 212.227.0342 x 46.


2006 Poll Worker Survey Report Released

CUF this month released Making Votes Count: 2006 Poll Worker Recruitment Program. The report analyzes the experiences of poll workers recruited during the 2006 elections. CUF expresses concern over the mishandling of ID requirements and the use of affidavit ballots reported by poll worker survey respondents and recommends better training. The report also recommends increased recruitment of language interpreters after finding that 53.9% of respondents said they experienced a shortage of language interpreters at their site. The report called for improvement in training because nearly 10% of poll workers that responded said they witnessed first time voters who failed to show required identification being denied their right to vote by affidavit ballot. Click   here  to read CUF’s press release and here for the full report.


2007 Primary Elections Results

In Off Election Year, Citizens Union Backed Candidate Wins Race in Brooklyn

In what was probably the lightest “off-year” election in New York City in decades, Citizens Union issued its only candidate preference in the Brooklyn Surrogate race in support of Judge Diana Johnson. Johnson defeated Civil Court Judge ShawnDya Simpson by a vote of 23,454 (60%) to 16,095 (40%) in the September Democratic Primary Election.

Our preference drew the attention of numerous city-wide and neighborhood blogs. You can find complete election results and coverage on


State Updates

Assembly Hearing on Redistricting

On October 24th, the New York State Assembly held a public hearing in Albany on redistricting. Citizens Union  testimony , as well as a joint panel of good government colleagues  NYPIRG, Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters . In addition, Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative presented  testimony  regarding the U.S. Census counting of prisoners in their area of incarceration and the consequences for redistricting.

Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation have long considered redistricting reform a key advocacy goal and are preparing to release a study on this topic in early December. Dick Dadey’s  testimony  included some of the study’s findings concerning the non-competitiveness of state elections, the partisan divide in the state legislature and resulting gridlock, as well as recommendations for the creation of an independent redistricting commission. He also made recommendations for the development of redistricting guidelines for drawing lines, provision of public comment and accessibility to information, and the adoption of a mechanism that encourages the passage of the reapportionment commission’s plan with minimal alterations.

The Assembly panel included Assemblyman Carl Heastie, Co-Chair of the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment; Assemblywoman RoAnn Destito from the Utica area, Chair of the Governmental Operations Committee; Assemblyman John McEneny of Albany; minority member Assemblyman Fred Thiele from Long Island; and Assemblyman Robert Reilly, also from the Albany area. The panel stated several times that the positions put forth by Citizens Union and its colleagues were “well taken” and they seemed to largely support the need for some level of reform, but much to our dismay, did not embrace the idea of an independent, non-partisan redistricting commission. Panel members showed support for creating a commission that contains both geographic and racial diversity, and enforcing cohesion of “communities of interest.”


Who is Citizens Union?

Gail H. Hilson, Board Member and Executive Committee Member

Gail Hilson, a veteran of electoral politics, is an active public servant and accomplished businesswoman. In 2002, she ran as the Republican, Liberal and Independence Party candidate for State Assembly in the 73rd District when then Assemblymember John Ravitz stepped down. Hilson campaigned to reform the dysfunctional New York State legislature. Her candidacy was supported by Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Pataki, Senator McCain, and Citizens Union; however she narrowly lost by a few hundred votes in a district that is 2.5:1 Democrats to Republicans.

Gail Hilson’s commitments extend beyond the world of politics. In addition to serving on the CU board, she is a member of the Boards of Directors of the Society of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Women’s Committee of the Central Park Conservancy, the YMCA of Greater New York and the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the Mayoral Representative. In addition, she is a member of the Advisory Board and Chairman of the Leaders Council of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Mrs. Hilson retired early from a career in the cosmetics industry, her last position having been that of Director of International Sales Development for Clinique Laboratories, LLC. Today Gail is a Consultant in Development and Fundraising to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

“I joined the Citizens Union Board of Directors to advance reform in Albany and to build the organization as an influential good government watchdog.”


Citizens Union’s 2007 Awards Dinner: A Fine Occasion and Successful Event

  “Why do we care about good government? We care not just because good government is inherently the right thing; we care because good government encourages people to participate in the political process and participation in the political process by more of our citizens is critical to a healthy democracy.” — Richard J. Davis, Chair, CU and CUF
  “This year working with Citizens Union we enacted groundbreaking pay to play campaign finance reform laws… I’ve always believed that we deserve a government that is accountable, ethical, transparent and even-handed and that is why the Citizens Union was founded all those years ago and why they are still here today.” — Mayor Michael Bloomberg
  “Incumbency retention in the New York State Legislature is 97% . That means that 97% of the time an incumbent runs for relection he or she is reelected. Citizens Union will be launching a crusade to end partisan gerrymandering… We have got to end the self dealing in drawing legislative districts by creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission to draw those lines… “ — Robert Abrams, President, CUF

On Tuesday, October 23rd, Citizens Union held its 2007 Awards Dinner at the Waldorf=Astoria. Mayor Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Quinn, former state Attorney General and Citizens Union Foundation President Robert Abrams along with other elected officials, business leaders Don Marron, Cathleen Black, and George Kaufman, and numerous other civic leaders joined the boards of Citizens Union and Citizens Union Foundation to honor four great New York City leaders.

  Alexandra Lebenthal received the Business Leadership Award for her extraordinary leadership in building a thriving business climate, and making New York City a better place to live and work.
  Diana L. Taylor was presented with the Civic Leadership Award for her countless contributions and exemplary leadership in building a vibrant civic life in the City of New York.
  Patricia M. Hynes & Roy L. Reardon were honored with the Robert F. Wagner Jr. Award for their exemplary leadership and service to all New Yorkers ensuring legal services for New Yorkers in need, greater accessibility of the courts and much more.


CU extends its thanks to everyone who contributed to the success of the 2007 Citizens Union Awards Dinner for their generous support and for helping to advance good government reforms.

Photo credit Julienne Shaer

Gotham Gazette NEWS AND Highlights

Gotham Gazette launches “The Garbage Game” — Serious fun in an online game about solid waste management in New York City

Gotham Gazette – an online local news and policy site published by Citizens Union Foundation – today launched the first in its new series of online policy games with funding provided by the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge.

New Yorkers playing The Garbage Game face challenging personal choices and tough policy decisions to keep our beloved city from drowning in trash. Each player decides whether to compost kitchen waste, give up bottled water and more to reduce the amount of garbage his or her household creates. After dealing with the garbage in their own homes, players become virtual sanitation commissioners, making decisions about where in the city the garbage should go for processing, its ultimate destination and even whether to ship our recycled paper all the way to Asia.

The Garbage Game is for all New Yorkers, young and old, liberals and conservatives, Manhattanites and residents of other boroughs, because garbage affects every New Yorker. Solid waste management is one of the thorniest environmental issues and political hot buttons in New York City. Are you ready to play the game? Go ahead!

Here are links to other recent articles from Gotham Gazette:

Paying the Price for Living in New York
Censored by Verizon
The Good News About Asthma


Citizens Union In the News

• November 13, 2007, “New Database Is ‘a Sort of 311’ for the Council,” The New York Sun
• October 23, 2007, “Lobbyists are People, Too,” The Wonkster
• October 23, 2007, “Garbage Cans Brought To You By Your Councilmember,” The Wonkster
• October 23, 2007, “CU Says: Can the Cans,” The Daily Politics
• October 23, 2007, “Dump this Garbage,” The Daily News
• October 18, 2007, “Bruno’s Copters Cost $72G, But Troopergate Cost $1.5M,” The Daily News
• October 17, 2007, “NYC Council Wasting City Funds on Personal Ads,” The Epoch Times
• October 17, 2007, “Give ‘Em Real Mug Shots,” The Daily News
• October 16, 2007, “Once Again, You Pick Up the Tab,” The New York Observer
• October 16, 2007, “Manhattan: New Rules Proposed for Council Ads,” The New York Times
• October 16, 2007, “City Council Members’ Tax-Payer-Paid Ads,” The Gothamist
• October 16, 2007, “City Council Members Got Raises, Worked 2nd Jobs,” The Daily News
• October 16, 2007, “City Council’s Use of Tax-Funded Ads Questioned,” Metro
• October 15, 2007, “Adding Up: How Much Members Spend on Ads?,” The Gotham Gazette
• October 15, 2007, “Queens Pols Spent Taxpayer Money on Ads, Group Says,” Flushing Times Ledger
• October 15, 2007, “Council Spending Criticized By Watchdog Group,” NY1.
• October 15, 2007, “Advertise, Or Else!,” The Daily Politics.
• October 15, 2007, “Quinn’s Solution,” The Daily Politics.
• October 15, 2007, “City Council Self-Promotion,” The New York Observer
• October 15, 2007, “Gennaro Reaction: Publicly Paid Ads Not Political,” The New York Observer
• October 15, 2007, “Dick Dadey on City Council Ads and Tax Dollars,” The New York Observer
• October 15, 2007, “Mike Nelson Responds to Citizens Union,” The New York Observer
• October 15, 2007, “ Monday’s Linkage,” Loho 10002
• October 14, 2007, “Council member Comrie ‘Helps’ Local Economy,” Footnoted
• October 13, 2007, “Money Muddies Port Support,” The Brooklyn Paper
• October 12, 2007, “City Council Said To End Long-Standing Practice of Member Ad Buys,” The New York Sun
• October 10, 2007, “Quinn Strikes a Mayoral Note,” The New York Times’s City Room
• October 5, 2007, “Role of Mayor at Bloomberg LP Is Eyed,” The New York Sun
• October 4, 2007, “The Judges and the Bosses,” The Wonkster
• October 2, 2007, “City Documents Show Team Billed Taxpayers for Souvenirs, Bar Tabs,” The Village Voice
• September 24, 2007, “State Legislature Will Hold Special Session,” Crain’s New York Business
• September 18, 2007, “Judicial Primaries Tomorrow,” Ditmar Park Blog
• September 17, 2007, “CU Endorses Johnson in Brooklyn Surrogate Primary,” The Daily Politics

Back To Top